I’ve just finished the March 2015 season of author talks at Brisbane libraries. What a joy it was to get out of my cluttered writer’s space, and meet people with an interest in my book or my topic or just writing in general.
In my job as a human resources professional, I’ve delivered lots of sessions before. But talking about yourself and your creative work for an hour was a bit daunting. My biggest fear was that no-one would come. But thanks to the promotional efforts of the libraries concerned, that did not happen. It makes me happy that our libraries give enormous support to local writers, artists, musicians and crafts people, as well as readers.
Here are four tips to help you prepare for an author talk.
1. Choose your topic wisely.
There are potentially dozens of topics you could cover in an author talk. In a library setting, attendees may be writers or readers, or learners of English, or people with time on their hands. Make no assumptions. Select a topic that will appeal to the broadest audience.
Keep to one hour, maximum. Any longer and either of two things will happen:
(a) your voice will give out or
(b) your audience will fall asleep or leave.
For my recent author talks, my topic was the story behind the story. Why? Because that’s what I’d want to hear about. I want to know what drives an author to commit a year or more to writing this particular story. I love watching the ‘extras’ at the end of a DVD. The motivation behind the film is often more fascinating than the film itself.
2. Create a visual presentation.
Keep it to around 8 to 10 slides, not ‘death by Powerpoint’. Find pictures that show your subject matter and add brief captions.
The visual presentation has a two-fold purpose. Firstly it gives your audience something to look at apart from you. Secondly it keeps your talk on track.
Save the slideshow onto a USB, email it to yourself, and print it out. If the venue doesn’t have an overhead projector, you can still show the presentation on an iPad or refer to the paper copies.
Allow 5 to 10 minutes at the end for comments or questions from the audience.
3. Select readings from your book.
People love hearing authors read their work. Choose around half a page for each, and keep it relevant to your topic. A word of caution: if you’re not an actor or a whiz at doing voices, steer clear of large clumps of dialogue.
Bookmark and label the passages, and mark on the page where each section starts and finishes. If you end with a ‘cliff-hanger’, people will be more inclined to buy or borrow your book to find out what happens.
Find a quiet place and practice reading the passages out loud. Do this at least twice. If you’re like me, you’re competent at reading silently inside your head but hopeless at sight-reading aloud. Even though I wrote the words, without vocalising them beforehand, I stumble and bumble like a six-year-old kid.
4. Deliver with passion and meaning.
On the day of your talk, choose your costume carefully. You are stepping into a role. Today you are an author, an authority on your work and your craft. Wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be on your feet for up to two hours straight.
Go to the venue early and prepare your space. Make sure the technology is working. If it isn’t, you can use the back-ups (iPad or paper).
Met the participants at the door. Welcome them and shake their hands. Invite them in. Thank them for coming. They may have read your book; they may never have heard of you; they may be escaping the heat in the nice cool aircon.
Whatever their reasons for being there, you are about to make new friends.